Apple has included a tool in its latest mobile operating system, iOS9, that will block adverts on iPhones and iPads as a default in its Safari web browser. This means that in order for users to see ads on Safari, they need to choose to manually disable the setting. Grant Shippey looks at the impact, or not, of ad-blocking technology on South African publishers.
Publishers derive revenue from advertising sales. If fewer users see ads, publishers and ad networks will earn less revenue. A report published by Adobe and PageFair indicates that ad-blocking software will lead to nearly $22 billion in lost advertising revenue in 2015, a 41% rise from 2014. One third of all Internet users now use some type of software to block ads.
Several creative techniques are being used by publishers to stop ad-blocking on their sites. The Wall Street Journal recently published an article saying, “Publishers have tried different strategies to deal with the problem, everything from completely disallowing ad-blocking users from viewing content on their sites to paying anti-ad-blocking firms to block the blockers. Some publishers, however, have taken a softer approach: appealing directly to readers. Wired has tested various versions of diplomacy, asking readers to ‘please do us a solid and disable your ad-blocker’. The Guardian also makes its case to readers directly with a message that reads: ‘We notice you’ve got an ad-blocker switched on. Perhaps you’d like to support the Guardian in another way?’ It directs visitors to a link to become a ‘supporter’, or donor, to the Guardian.”
But not all advertising is equal, and badly designed, irritating or uninteresting ads can be particularly annoying for users. Mobile ads use up data that people are often paying for themselves and which they would rather have used for other purposes. The iOS9 update means that being able to block these ads will also improve users’ Safari browsing experience, as pages will open quicker.
The South African context
In South Africa, opinions are divided on the impact of ad-blockers on advertising and user trends.
In a recent interview with Adlip, chairman of the South African Mobile Marketing Association, Yaron Assabi, said that African consumers differ in that they view mobile ads as a way to find useful information, and don’t find them intrinsically annoying. In his view, this has been influenced by Africa leapfrogging the digital technology curve with most first time Internet users accessing it on mobile phones, rather than on desktops. “As a result, most African internet users haven’t been inundated with ads – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. They are novice users of the Internet, and actually feel comfortable with ads,” he said.
Assabi believes the African market offers a unique case study platform for advertisers to experiment with different ways of communicating with consumers. He added, however, that advertisers need to be particularly mindful of data constraints in African markets.
On the other end of the spectrum, some experts believe that the responsibility lies with publishers and that they should be working to attract quality advertisers with quality messages so that the ads are not as time or data intensive and are more aesthetically pleasing.
There is a third school of thought that advocates for publishers pushing their readers to consume content on bespoke apps, rather than through a browser.
If publishers develop an app for the publication of their content, then it gets download directly on to people’s devices, which means they aren’t viewing it in a browser and not subject to ad-blockers This also allows publishers to create alternative revenue streams and can contribute to innovation in the mobile sector.
With the increasing customisation of people’s online experiences, be it through browser plugins or tailored apps, the issue of reaching people with useful content that still meets the needs of advertisers will continue to challenge online publishers and to prompt innovation.
Grant Shippey is CEO of Amorphous New Media
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